Icebreakers: Be they steel hulled ships, hand held picks, or cutesy words to nearby strangers; they have always been incredibly difficult for me to command.
I made a new friend here in Carolina after being introduced. She was never married, but incredibly charismatic and social. Her charm filled a room and some spilled out. She claimed when she was young she was shy and nerdy. (Hmmm, an immediate target). So yes, I glommed onto her and, to be fair, she never sent a signal that she wanted to go.
We had a delightful two hour conversation about her years in college, moving away and coming back to town, helping her parents in hospice, family relationships with her siblings. I talked about my different jobs, where I’ve lived, my recent separation and divorce and, of course, my summer long adventure of a lifetime that I’m still eyeballs deep within.
And when the iron was hot with my ex-nerd companion, I struck. I moved the conversation to how I’m uncomfortable making an “icebreaker”; the thing you say to an unknown woman who is sitting quietly, maybe working on her phone, seemingly wanting to be left alone (from you!). I talked about the great coaching I’ve received from my many friends to overcome my awkwardness and build confidence. I told the hilarious story of Jack nearly dropping me on some poor woman’s lap to have me mutter the first thing in my head (and then to seriously coach me later “See, that was easy” and “You didn’t want that one anyway”).
I recounted my story about the mysterious wet motorcycle rider showing up like a apparition in the tiny out of season resort town of Chincoteague. Told of us splitting up at the motel desk, then catching back up at the bar next door. Of how I spotted her, walked up while she was facing away fruitlessly signaling the busy bartender, and how I waited an uncomfortable minute or so; becoming fearful she would give up on ordering, turn around and walk directly into a face to face slapstick “cute meet”.
“There you are” was what I said, and she turned and replied “Hey, its you”. I thought nothing of it, until the following day. How casual and comfortable and … familiar. I didn’t have time to think about it; to compose and worry and evaluate.
As I told these stories, my new hyper social friend took turns emitting exasperated sighs, cupping her face in her hands, and shaking her head with her eyes closed. At this last story, she finally lit up as if with an idea.
“There you go”, she said, hoping to escape my presence. There’s your damn icebreaker. Now you don’t have to think about it. It sounds like you know them. If they’re interested, they’ll pretend they know you. If they are slightly interested, the two of you will try to figure out where from. If she’s really trying to get some work done on her phone or laptop she’ll look up at you and simply say “no, we’ve never met” and you have your ‘oh so important’ escape. You can say “Oh, sorry, I think your right, I’m sorry that I interrupted you” and she will go right back to work. No harm no foul.
“But many times”, she added, “I go to a coffee shop with my phone, deleting emails or cleaning out pictures, just wanting to veg out. If a guy sat down next to me and said “Hi”, or “What’cha doin” or “There you are” I’d pounce on the chance to make some conversation. I’m sitting there in a social place, without any reason to be social.
I was astounded.
Until I gain confidence with my skills, its a perfect crutch. (That is, as long as you only use it once per day per place). It is the Y2K equivalent of the worn out saw “Haven’t I seen you someplace before”, a line so trite it’s now a punchline.
These days people meet on the internet, or set up meeting via text or email, and they are always searching for each other in bars, and coffee shops and even elevators and lobbies. Why not? “Hey, there you are?” No name, no background, if you’re pressed have some standard innocuous meeting (from church, your club, your condo assn) with a woman that is “notoriously unreliable”. Wow, that scenario actually happens to me all the time.
I was delighted, almost giddy and began kinda giggling at the brilliance of her suggestion and my quick mental shakedown. I muttered it to myself, played out scenarios quickly in sequence like a gatling gun; blinking, looking over her shoulder at a blank wall. I felt my smile grow on my face.
She looked at me like I was from outer space, eyebrows furrowed, shaking her head softly. How, she was asking herself, has this grown man navigated by himself in a world full of walking, talking, thinking adults?
Always with permission, is what I would answer. Always with consent.
Within a minute or two, excuses were made and the conversation ended. But I had struck a goldmine.